The Realm of Non-Being: A nitrous oxide journey

Anya Schultz/Senior Staff

Note: Inhaling nitrous oxide can be harmful. Potential symptoms include extreme dizziness and possible loss of consciousness.

If you’ve ever heard someone talk about “whippits,” they’re probably talking about using nitrous oxide as a drug. Most commonly, whippits take the form of small metal canisters of highly compressed gas.

These canisters are legal for commercial purposes; you might find them in a coffee shop, where they’re used for making whipped cream. But they also have an illicit use. Various smoke shops around Berkeley sell them in boxes of 50, decorated with pictures of fit and naked white women. The only suggestion of the whippits legitimacy is the whipped cream placed carefully over their nipples.

The first effects one notices after inhaling a whippit are the auditory distortions. There’s a pulsating woosh that warps the hearing within a few seconds of breathing in the gas. After that, a loss of sensation begins. It starts in the extremities and eventually saturates the entire body. This is total dissociation, like my body isn’t there. And it’s over after 90 seconds.

But something else happens to me after I inhale a whippit, something not as easy to define. This is my best effort: “essentially evil, yet as deceptively sweet as the apple in Eden.” I know the essence of my experience isn’t really there. What follows is an attempt not to see my experience in words but to dance around it with light in the hope that its shape will be revealed through its shadow.

“‘This is the realm of non being.
Do you understand the extent of the unknown.’
Flashes of Bach, mastery, God and the cackle of the devil.”

Above are my notes after inhaling my third whippit on Tuesday. That night, I invited the resident “whippit fiend” at my co-op to my room for a sesh. I told her I was doing research; she said that this was an impossible task, that whippits don’t merely go beyond words — they reject them. But she humored the effort, and, soon enough, the cracker was loaded with the gas, and she was anxious to begin.
The first whippit that night was terrifying and dramatic. As I came out of my dissociation, I managed to take a few words down:

“How can I capture
so terrible but
I cannot keep it
False God?”

Whippits are often metaphysical to me. They touch on something otherworldly, divine, within me. But alongside recalling the religious, mythical vocabulary that I have picked up in my atheistic life, whippits remind me of something evil, some dark part of myself that I might rather not know.

“A complete descent into hell, so brief, only seconds, but a total sensation of otherworldly knowledge that I am in the complete negation of paradise”
— Notes after the first whippit

I really don’t know what to make of my fear. The fleeting sensation of pleasure leaves a ghost, a memory that reminds me of satisfaction. But along with it comes a darker ghost. Like the conclusion of an argument by which you were once convinced but cannot remember why. That dual faith and skepticism leaves its trace.

“If anything is evil, this is evil. You will not be able to prove”


A whip-it dispenser

At first, this sensation of evil rises within me a resistance. I want to reject these experiences as temptation. My friend becomes Eve, tricked by a serpent, feeding me a false understanding, a false truth, with this gas.

Eventually, my moral resistance gives. I can no longer fight the temptation to hold divine mythical knowledge, no matter how false I suspected it was. By the fourth whippit, I’m sold; cosmology and theology begin to merge.

“‘thus begins the complete unraveling of the Universe.’ ‘allow it, allow it, such things must happen’”
— Notes after the fourth whippit

By the fifth whippit, I am exhausted, and I know it will be my last. I can feel the story ending as my friend puts the canister into the cracker and releases the gas.

“‘Yes. Yes. Yes. This is the unraveling of the Universe.’ Will this be the unbecoming of me? I see a primitive reality, almost cosmic. The early seconds of the Universe. A regression into a nothing. Then slow emergence of things, protons, simple musics, until I re-emerge, re-remember myself. Come back to try and record.”

Zach Pine is a junior at UC Berkeley.

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